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Controversy over Chinese Singer Sun Nan Sending His Kids to an Unqualified “Traditional Culture School”

The parents might think it’s a good idea, but what about the children’s future?

Boyu Xiao

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Famous Chinese singer Sun Nan and his wife Pan Wei have left their Beijing life behind and have moved to Xuzhou to send their children to a school that focuses on ‘traditional Chinese culture.’ The decision has triggered controversy online, where many netizens think that acquiring academic skills is more important for children than attending ‘women’s virtue’ classes.

When news came out that famous Chinese singer Sun Nan (孙楠) is sending his children to the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture that, among others, has “women’s virtues” in its curriculum, controversy erupted on Chinese social media this week. The hashtag “Sun Nan Sends His Kids to Unqualified School” (#孙楠孩子就读学校无办学资格#) has received more than 260 million views on Weibo at time of writing.

The controversy started over an interview with Sun Nan’s wife Pan Wei (潘蔚), who is currently promoting her new book The Art of Artless Life (素心映照).

In the interview with short video platform Yi Tiao (一条), Pan says that the family had decided to move from Beijing to Xuzhou some three years ago, living in a modest 700-yuan-per month (±$100) apartment in order to send their children to a local “traditional culture” school that was allegedly established 28 years ago.

In the interview, Pan stresses the importance of teaching children traditional Chinese cultural values such as filial piety, as she also specifically mentions the value of teaching girls about being “gentle and kind (through needles and threads)” for when they grow up to be wives and mothers.

The interview soon became a big topic of discussion online, where the school in question was identified as the ‘Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture‘ (华夏学宫) in Xuzhou, that is focused on teaching traditional Chinese culture to its students and has an annual fee for its junior programme of 100,000 yuan (±$15,000). As also featured in the interview, Pan Wei herself teaches needlework at the school.

The heated discussions on Chinese social media focused on the doubted academic qualification of the school and its teachers, as well as on the intentions of Pan and her husband to send the children to such an institute.

On January 23rd, various media reports disclosed that, according to the Education Department of Xuzhou, the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture indeed is not qualified as an official educational institution, and that graduates from this institution also cannot obtain verified certificates, nor participate in China’s National College Entrance Exams.

The courses that are taught at the school have specifically attracted the attention of online commenters. Besides needlework, which is only taught to girls, the school offers so-called “women’s virtue” classes and uses Di Zi Gui (弟子规, Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child) as its main textbook, which was written in the Qing dynasty and is arguably based on the teachings of Confucius.

It is not the first time Chinese “women’s virtue” classes receive criticism online for reinforcing gender sterotypes. In 2018, one “female virtue class” was ordered to shut down after it made headlines.

Sun Nan and Pan Wei got married in 2009 after they had both been married before. From their earlier marriages, Sun had one daughter and a son, and Pan had one daughter, who previously studied at an international school. In 2011, the couple had one daughter together.

Singer Sun Nan has been well-known for his Mando-pop songs for years. He released his first album in 1990 and has had a long-lasting career ever since, receiving various awards for his work as a musician. (You might also remember his performance at the 2016 CCTV Spring Gala, where he performed together with 540 dancing robots.)

On Weibo, many netizens express their idea of Pan Wei as an “evil stepmother” who would allegedly send her own biological daughter to a good school, while purposely enrolling her stepchildren into a school that lacks proper credentials. It even led to some Weibo users leaving comments on the social media account of Sun Nan’s ex-wife, Mai Hongmei (买红妹), asking her to “save” her children from their current predicament.

“Aren’t these children supposed to receive compulsory education?” some wonder, while others worry that the children have been victimized by an “evil cult.” Some even say it is “ruthless” to withhold children from a qualified education, potentially leaving them no chance to enroll in college later on in life.

There are also commenters and bloggers who note that Sun and Pan’s personal involvement in the school, and the reason for sending their children there, is driven by financial interests, suggesting that the couple might be eager to make money by jumping on the “traditional culture” trend.

The head of the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture has since denied that the couple owns any shares in the institute. The school’s home page, at time of writing, however, does actively promote Pan Wei’s latest book.

“This controversial issue actually has three sides to it,” one popular Weibo blogger explains, suggesting that (1) the fact that Pan’s own child is enrolled in a qualified school and her step-children are not, makes her look like a bad stepmother with ulterior motives; (2) it is up for debate to what extent parents can choose to send their children to special schools, withholding them from the basic academic education they will need later on in life; (3) it is questionable to what extent it is good for young children to learn about ‘women’s virtues’ and obedience, and one might wonder what motives lie behind sending one’s children to such a school.

For now, the Xuzhou Education Department has stated that they will further investigate the matter. According to Chinese law, children must attend primary and junior secondary school for at least nine years in total. Meanwhile, Sun Nan has not responded to the controversy on his official Weibo page yet.

Watch the video of the controversial interview with Pan (with English subtitles) here:

By Boyu Xiao and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Boyu Xiao is an MPhil graduate in Asian Studies (Leiden University/Peking University) focused on modern China. She has a strong interest in feminist issues and specializes in the construction of memory in contemporary China.

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China Celebs

Female Comedian Yang Li and the Intel Controversy

A decision that backfired: Intel’s act of supposed ‘inclusion’ caused the exclusion of female comedian Yang Li.

Manya Koetse

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“How to look at the boycott of Yang Li?” (#如何看待抵制杨笠#) became a top trending topic on social media site Weibo on Monday after female comedian Yang Li was dismissed as the spokesperson for American tech company Intel over a controversial ad campaign.

On March 18, Intel released an ad on its Weibo account in which Yang says “Intel has a taste [for laptops] that is higher than my taste for men” (“英特尔的眼光太高了,比我挑对象的眼光都高.”)

The ad drew complaints for allegedly insulting men, with some social media users vowing to boycott the tech brand. On Sunday, Intel deleted the ad in question from its social media page and reportedly also removed Yang from her position as their brand ambassador.

The commotion over the ad had more to do with Chinese comedian Yang Li (杨笠) than with the specific lines that were featured in it.

Yang Li is controversial for her jokes mocking men (“men are adorable, but mysterious. After all, they can look so average and yet be so full of confidence“), with some blaming her for being “sexist” and “promoting hatred against all men.”

Since she appeared on the stand-up comedy TV competition Rock and Roast (脱口秀大会) last year, she was nicknamed the the “punchline queen” and became one of the more influential comedians in present-day China. Yang now has nearly 1,5 million fans on Weibo (@-杨笠-).

Yang Li’s bold jokes and sharp way of talking about gender roles and differences between men and women in Chinese society is one of the main reasons she became so famous. Intel surely knew this when asking Yang to be their brand ambassador.

In light of the controversy, the fact that Intel was so quick to remove Yang also triggered criticism. Some (male) netizens felt that Intel, a company that sells laptops, could not be represented by a woman who makes fun of men, while these men are a supposed target audience for Intel products.

But after Yang was removed, many (female) netizens also felt offended, suggesting that in the 21st century, Intel couldn’t possibly believe that their products were mainly intended for men (“以男性用户为主”)? Wasn’t their female customer base just as important?

According to online reports, Intel responded by saying: “We noted that the content [we] spread relating to Yang Li caused controversy, and this is not what we had anticipated. We place great importance on diversity and inclusion. We fully recognize and value the diverse world we live in, and are committed to working with partners from all walks of life to create an inclusive workplace and social environment.”

However, Intel’s decision backfired, as many wondered why having Yang as their brand ambassador would not go hand in hand with ‘promoting an inclusive social environment.’

“Who are you being ‘inclusive’ too? Common ‘confident’ men?”, one person wrote, with others saying: “Why can so many beauty and cosmetic brands be represented by male idols and celebrities? I loathe these double standards.”

“As a Chinese guy, I really think Yang Li is funny. I didn’t realize Chinese men had such a lack of humor!” another Weibo user writes.

There are also people raising the issue of Yang’s position and how people are confusing her performative work with her actual character. One popular law blogger wrote: “Really, boycotting Yang Li is meaningless. Stand-up comedy is a performance, just as the roles people play in a TV drama.”

Just a month ago, another Chinese comedian also came under fire for his work as a brand ambassador for female underwear brand Ubras.

It is extremely common in China for celebrities to be brand ambassadors; virtually every big celebrity is tied to one or more brands. Signing male celebrities to promote female-targeted products is also a popular trend (Li 2020). Apparently, there is still a long way to go when the tables are turned – especially when it is about female celebrities with a sharp tongue.

By Manya Koetse

Li, Xiaomeng. 2020. “How powerful is the female gaze? The implication of using male celebrities for promoting female cosmetics in China.” Global Media and China, Vol.5 (1), p.55-68.

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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The Online Hit of the China-US Meeting in Alaska: Interpreter Zhang Jing

While the China-US meeting is all the talk, it is interpreter Zhang Jing who has hit the limelight.

Manya Koetse

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It probably was not easy to translate the tough talks at the high-level meeting between the U.S. and China in Anchorage. Chinese female translator Zhang Jing became an online hit in China for remaining unflustered, graceful, and accurate.

Over the past days, the U.S.-China strategic talks in Anchorage have been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

The first major U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration ended on Friday, March 19. Despite the tense start of the meeting and some describing the talks as a “diplomatic clash,” China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) called the meeting “frank, constructive and helpful,” New York Times reports.

While international media focused on the meeting and what their outcome means for Sino-American relations and the foreign strategies of China and the U.S., many Weibo users focused on interpreter Zhang Jing (张京) who joined the meeting.

One video of the first session of the diplomatic talks shows how Yang Jiechi starts his response to the American side at 8.30 minutes, going on for over 15 minutes until the 24.36-minute mark. Next to him, interpreter Zhang Jing is fiercely taking notes.

When Yang is finished speaking, he glances to foreign minister Wang Yi on his right to let him speak, after which Zhang says, “Shall I first translate?”

While the U.S. side was awaiting the translation, Yang then says: “Ok, you translate,” adding in English: “It’s a test for the interpreter,” after which the American side says “We’re gonna give the translator a raise!”

Zhang then goes ahead and calmly translates Yang’s entire 15-minute speech directed at American secretary Blinken and national security advisor Sullivan.

To give a speedy translation of such a lengthy off-the-record speech is seen as a sign of Zhang’s utmost professionalism as an interpreter, which many on Weibo praise. “She’s my idol,” multiple people write.

On Sunday, the hashtag “China-U.S. Talks Female Interpreter Zhang Jing” (#中美对话女翻译官张京#) had reached 200 million views.

It’s not the first time for Zhang to become an online hit. She was previously also called “the most beautiful interpreter” of the National Congress in 2013.

Zhang Jing is a graduate of the China Foreign Affairs University (外交学院) and has been working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2007.

Being an interpreter is generally regarded an exciting and attractive job by many Chinese netizens, as the career involves much traveling and international contacts. But the ability to master another language than Chinese is also often admired.

In 2016, a TV drama titled The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官) became a major hit, featuring Chinese actress Yang Mi who plays a Chinese-French interpreter on her way to start her professional career.

“Translators are usually the ‘heroes behind the scenes’,” one commenter writes, pointing out how rare it is for an interpreter to hit the limelight like this.

“There are still people saying it’s not important to learn English,” another Weibo user writes: “But if that were true, how could we educate brilliant interpreters like Zhang Jing? How else could we quarrel with Americans at the conference table?!”

Many who write about Zhang on Weibo say that she is an example or a role model to them: “I hope that my spoken English one day would be as excellent as hers. This motivates me to try even harder.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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